A hop over the border into Molise
It’s pretty obvious that our first love is Sulmona and the Valle Peligna in Abruzzo. We do however like to get out and about and this time we even wandered over into Molise…
Molise? Yup – that tiny splodge just below Abruzzo on the map before you get to Puglia. So small it only has two provinces. Talk about ‘Hidden Italy’! We are all used to hearing ‘Where exactly is Abruzzo?’ but for many people, especially foreigners, Molise does not register even at all. There’s a good reason for this – until 1963 Molise was part of the Abruzzi – you can read here for more info.
ph © Emanuele Scocchera
So what took us out of our comfort zone? Well number 1 it’s really not that far. It’s faster to cross the border into Molise than it is to get to the beach actually. The drive alone is worth the journey. If you ski here you’ll know most of the route as it takes you along the valley floor, past Pettorano sul Gizio and then up, up, up to the Cinque Miglia Plateau towards Roccaraso. Keep going, turn left towards Ateleta and that’s where the fun starts – sweeping vistas, charming road-side hamlets, green, green, and more green, cows, sheep and the odd village perched on a peak, surrounded in cloud. (Note that there is a slightly faster but less scenic route via Castel di Sangro – recommended to those travelling with children prone to car-sickness…). Entering Molise feels like stepping back in time to a slower, more traditional way of life – and that’s coming out of Abruzzo!
Number 2 we had been invited to visit Castel del Giudice – a tiny village of 300 people at 800m above sea level. This charming and slightly sleepy village is home to not one, not two, but three major new commercial initiatives which before too long will most definitely have many people talking about it.
The main purpose of our visit was to see the albergo difuso called ‘Borgotufi’. This type of alternative hotel experience is already quite well known in Abruzzo and it’s gaining popularity throughout Italy and beyond. In essence it’s a hotel where the various guest rooms and the other hotel services and facilities are spread over a wider ‘diffused’ area rather than housed together under one roof. This type of lodging is particularly well-suited to a small, village environment and this is very much the look & feel here.
Each bedroom or suite is self-contained in a little stone house with an independent entrance. Dotted about the oldest part of the village in clusters, none are very far from the hotel’s reception block where you can also find the stylish bar & restaurant and the rather wonderful spa area. Each little house, many of which were stables in their previous lives, is furnished with comfort and convenience in a contemporary but mountain-setting style. Many have little kitchenettes for self-catering but the restaurant is run by a dynamic former pupil of Abruzzo’s favourite chef Niko Romito so why would you really bother cooking in?
Some of the houses have functioning fireplaces so it’s also a good choice year-round for a get-away-from-it-all weekend or even longer. The prices are particularly reasonable right now, and the clientele a cut above, but we suspect that as its reputation grows so will its level of exclusivity and associated rates. Right now, there is a special offer for the 3-day weekend of the ‘Immacolata’ public holiday at the beginning of December.
The desertion of these mountain villages, not only in Abruzzo and Molise but throughout the whole Italian peninsular, has hit many areas hard. With little or no population growth, and the younger generation often moving away, something drastic is often needed to completely turn the fortunes of these traditional communities around.
Needless to say, Castel del Giudice’s development is the lovechild of Mr Public Funding and Ms Private Enterprise but it wouldn’t have been possible without the support and commitment of the whole village. Plenty of jobs have been created – both permanent and seasonal – with many more possible as each of the three different businesses expands.
Lino Gentile, the village’s mayor, is quoted as saying that they don’t presume to be a model, but are simply a demonstration of how to deal with the problems of small, inland communities.
The other two local businesses are an apple orchard covering 3 hectares and an old folks’ home. If you think about it carefully, each of these three different businesses requires a different type of worker thus offering opportunities to villagers of all ages and all levels of education too. People are now moving here for work rather than the other way around. That’s a pretty incredible success story by anyone’s standards.
Borgotufi most definitely has its foot in the door of what is an extremely competitive business, and it’s slowly wedging it further and further open. Involved with many of the Slow Food initiatives, and current poster boy for the Legambiente, the chatter is growing every day. So you heard it here first!
With thanks to Antonietta di Salvo and to Lino Gentile, mayor of Castel del Giudice. Photos all courtesy of Emanuele Scocchera. Credit also to Valentina Gentile whose article about Borgotufi, published in La Stampa in November 2015, we used for additional info.